Dog Barking - What Different Dog Barks Mean

Tess Thompson

There has been a lot of discussion over why dogs bark and what different sounds of barking mean. Just as humans, dogs communicate, too. Whereas humans communicate through speech and body language, dogs also use both sound and body language to communicate. Humans have language that is explicable, but the question that most dog lovers often ponder on is whether dogs have a language that humans do not understand.

A dog may move his ears, head, tail, eyes and eyebrows in a typical manner to communicate. For example, a tail carried high is understood as a sign of dominance or dog aggression, and if carried low, it signifies submission or insecurity. However, the communication skills of a dog are not limited to their body language.

Dogs evolved from wolves, but their barking has become significantly different from the parent species. Wolves howl or bay only in specific situations. The howling or baying is characterized by brevity and isolation. On the contrary, a dog barks in long, rhythmic stanzas. Dogs bark more frequently and in numerous situations. The reason behind this is ascribed to the domestication of dogs.

Research on dog barking has shown that there are different types of dog barking. These can be classified as under:

  • A warning bark – This is a low and quiet bark, but the noticeable growl increases in intensity and ultimately turns into a howling growl. Dogs use this to signify a potential danger, and therefore it is normally associated with territorial intrusion. The dog will continue to bark and may also bare his teeth if an immediate threat is perceived.
  • An alarm bark - This type of bark involves short barks at a time. Barking of this nature may continue until the dog sees that some action is being taken. Such barks ensue generally from what dogs can hear but are unable to see, like a car parking nearby or a doorbell ringing.
  • Prolonged barking - Uninterrupted barking is the dog’s way to communicate that he is alone and lonely. It is a kind of plea for company or attention.
  • Yelps - A single or a series of yelps generally emanates out of pain, depending on its severity.
  • Stutter bark - Although it is out of place to ascribe the prefix ‘stutter’ to a dog’s bark, it is the only way to describe this type of barking. A bark that sounds like a halting bark in a low pitch normally conveys that the dog wants to play. A rising pitched stutter bark is a sign of excitement.


Humans were faster in deciphering body language in dogs. However, there has been a consistent attempt to translate dog barking, growling, whimpering and howling. Before trying to ascribe meanings to different types of barking, it is important here to mention that animal communication skills are now considered to be more complex than earlier thought. Some communications may lack spontaneity, originality, or individuality. Same gestures and barks may have different or multiple meanings and some may be extremely contextual in nature. Just as showing teeth does not always mean dog biting, dog barking too does not always signify aggressive dog behavior. A smile may appear like a snarl, but there is a vast difference between the two. Similarly, it is difficult to generalize dog barking, and a lot is yet to be understood.


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